One of the most prestigious and notorious feats of physical fitness, marathons are 26.2 miles of pure work ethic and determination. Requiring months of training, proper diet, and mental preparation, there is a reason it is considered one of the most impressive athletic accomplishments for runners and competitors alike.
Because of the physical and mental demands associated with marathon running, it can leave many to wonder how you could possibly prepare for such a feat. What should I be eating? How should I be training? We’ll cover some of the “Dos and Don’ts” of marathon running and preparation below.
The Dos Of Running A Marathon
Do Train Properly
You obviously won’t be able to walk up to the starting line of the Boston Marathon without the proper training. This doesn’t mean including a jog once or twice a week in the month leading up and expecting to breeze through it. Marathon training should be started at least 16 weeks prior to the event.
If you are newer to running, or purely out of practice, it is recommended to complete 20-30 miles per week regularly before considering a serious training regimen. This can mean up to a year’s worth of regular long-distance running, which will help to decrease injuries or health complications once you feel comfortable enough to start training for the event.
After building a solid foundation, working your way up to around 50 miles per week should be the minimum benchmark for newer runners. Running 3-5 times per week, you should aim to increase your overall mileage no more than 10% per week. As you progress, you should also aim to include one long run per week, again slightly increasing the length week to week. For example:
- Week 1: 5×10 mile runs
- Week 2: 4×10 mile runs, 1×15 mile run
As you become more experienced, Legwork Guide has found that capping your longest run of the week to about 20 miles is most beneficial to avoid burnout and injury. Although this isn’t quite the length of a full marathon, the last 6.2 miles will be achievable on event day as long you adhere to the training program.
In addition to distance training, speed drills will also pay dividends come race day. Interval training with short one-mile “sprints” interceded by slow-paced jogs can be a great training tool. Tempo runs are also effective in building stamina, increasing your overall speed for about 75% the length of your average run. These methods will train your body and mind to persevere under race day conditions.
Finally, you can introduce cross-training to increase your body’s adaptability. Distance hiking, swimming, or biking can provide additional benefit physically, while mentally breaking up the monotony of constant distance running.
Do Prepare Your Gear Correctly
Often overlooked in the preparation process, your running gear can make or break the success of your marathon run. The most important piece of gear, your running shoes, should be a tried and true friend well before event day. Always have your shoes picked out well in advance, training with them for at least a month before the big day. This will prevent any unforeseen blisters or irritation on race day. If you buy new shoes before the event and realize they are unbearably uncomfortable, you might as well throw in the towel before you get to the starting line.
This also includes breathable shorts, shirts, bras for women, and socks. Every aspect of your gear should be familiar and broken in. This includes variations on your running outfit, leaving you prepared for inclement weather on race day.
Another tip inexperienced runners may not know about is the implementation of vaseline. Applying it between areas of friction like your underarms, legs, and toes will prevent blisters and irritation. This also includes placing tape over your nipples, eliminating the irritation caused by the friction against your shirt.
Do Eat a Balanced Diet
Just because you are running dozens of miles per week, it doesn’t mean you get to splurge on junk food because you need “extra carbs”. Carbohydrates are very important in fueling your body for extreme cardiovascular activity, however, they should be clean sources. Oats, brown rice, fruit, and pasta are all healthy ways to increase extra carbs into your diet.
Sticking to a balanced and healthy diet during the training process will greatly improve results. Understand what your macronutrients should be, and treat your body like a machine that needs fuel. You don’t want to fuel your body with junk when you are demanding so much from it.
The Don’ts Of Running A Marathon
Don’t Overtrain Leading Up to the Marathon
Letting your body rest before your big race is a vital step for success. Not only should you maintain appropriate rest throughout the duration of your training (implementing lighter mileage every 3 weeks or so), but it is even more important in the days and weeks leading up to the marathon itself.
About 3 weeks out from the event, begin to taper your mileage week by week to ensure your body is fully rested for the big day. Your runs shouldn’t be any longer than 10 miles in the week leading up to the marathon.
Don’t Overeat the Night Before the Race
While many runners are familiar with the “carb load” before a big race, don’t make the mistake of eating too much or too close to the race. Aim for your bigger carb meal to be about 48 hours beforehand, with a 10% overall increase. Pasta, rice, and bread will all be great sources of long-lasting carbohydrates.
Always avoid straying from your normal diet in the days leading up to the race, as you can’t be sure how your body will react to abnormal foods. It can also be helpful to avoid heavy red meats, fried foods, and dairy products the day before. Stick to light carbs sources like oatmeal and fresh fruit the morning of the race, and have energy gels or chews on hand to replenish glycogen stores mid-run.
Don’t Avoid Body Maintenance and Stretching
Throughout the duration of your training, you should be stretching and foam rolling to prevent soreness and injury. Lactic acid build-up in the legs is a side effect of distance running, so using a roller to alleviate the excess amounts will prevent muscle fatigue and damage. In addition, full-body stretches will prevent tightness and pulled muscles over the course of your training.
Successfully completing a marathon requires more than just physical preparation. Logistical planning and mental strength are equally important, so don’t ignore the fine details when prepping for this treacherous feat of fitness.